Karen Sutherland Warrigal greens, Tetragonia tetragonioides, although known for its edible leaves,gets its name from its seeds. My teacher Minmia, says that warrigal greens are named because the seeds look like puppies’ heads and warrigal is the Wiradjuri word for dog. The botanical name of Tetragonia was given because the woody seeds are ten-sided. It’s also known as NZ Spinach as it’s native to that country and also parts of eastern Asia. A member of the ice plant or Aizoaceae family, warrigal greens are an edible succulent.
How to grow
Native to coastal areas of Southern Australia, warrigal greens is one of the easiest and most rewarding native food plants to grow as it’s tolerant of wind, exposure and a variety of soil types, as well as growing quickly to 2 m across and around 30 cm high. Plants are not particularly frost tolerant. A ground cover thriving in full sun or light shade, it makes a great living mulch to keep soil moisture levels and temperatures consistent as well as keeping cats from digging in your garden. In a permaculture food forest, use it under shallow rooted trees such as citrus and avocados that don’t like competition, as warrigal greens has a small root system. Apartment or balcony gardeners can plant warrigal greens in a hanging basket. Note that warrigal greens can cover other small plants next to them in their enthusiasm to spread.
An annual plant, it is grown easily in spring from seed sown direct after soaking overnight in warm water, or buy a small plant from the herb section of your local nursery. Growth is quick and abundant through spring and then summer, when small yellow flowers appear, followed by the funky looking seeds, which should be allowed to become brown and woody before collecting for next year. Dry seeds further in a paper bag before storing in a dark cool dry cupboard until next spring. Seeds left to fall in the garden will usually grow next spring.
How to use in the kitchen
Leaves contain high levels of vitamin K, as well as vitamins C and B6, and manganese. However due to their high levels of oxalic acid, the leaves need pre-treatment before eating. Blanch leaves in boiling water for a minute before draining and using in cooked dishes such as spinach and cheese or tofu pies. If using leaves fresh, pick young leaves at the tips of the long growth, pruning them back to keep the plant bushy. Soak the leaves in cold water for half an hour, drain, discarding the water, then add leaves to mixed green salads, or use them to make a delicious pesto.
If you can’t eat all your warrigal greens, they are a fabulous source of greens for your chickens!
Warrigal greens are named because the seeds look like
puppies’ heads and warrigal is the Wiradjuri word for dog.
Karen Sutherland of Edible Eden Design is a regular contributor to OG, specialising in permaculture and native plants.
First published: April 2020